Mum's the word at UNC-Chapel Hill on athletics-academic scandal

June 11, 2014 

UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt and UNC system President Tom Ross have commissioned former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein to investigate Chapel Hill’s athletics-academic scandal wherever it goes. But that commission apparently came with an undisclosed clause: So long as Wainstein is investigating, we’re not responding.

At least that seems to be the message behind the UNC leadership’s lack of comment on former UNC basketball player Rashad McCants’ explosive charges about academic fraud within the basketball program, fraud that he says coach Roy Williams was aware of. McCants spoke on ESPN’s show “Outside the Lines” last Friday. Williams responded in a 35-minutes ESPN interview Saturday. McCants was back on ESPN on Wednesday rebutting Williams.

While this nationally broadcast back-and-forth goes on between UNC’s Hall of Fame coach and a star on UNC’s 2005 national championship team, Ross and Folt are all but silent. Both issued statements saying they couldn’t address the matter until Wainstein’s work is done, a point that could be weeks or months away.

Folt wrote in a message to the UNC-CH community, “Until the investigation is complete, we may not be able to respond to each new report or allegation. In some cases that is because we do not want to jump to conclusions or otherwise impede the investigation.”

It’s true that investigations require withholding facts and that federal privacy laws limit what can be said about student records. It’s also true that the university system president and the UNC-CH chancellor can’t respond to every allegation. Folt and Ross are following the advice of university lawyers. But when the university is hit by allegations as strong and high-profile as those coming from McCants, leaders can’t take refuge behind lawyers and investigators.

This is when leaders step forward, address the public and answer questions. That imperative is particularly strong for leaders of a public university who must uphold the public trust with more than constrained silence and appeals for patience.

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